Aeric tells Strelok that someone missed him while he was gone; Strelok has no idea who he means. After a short exchange of Aeric being amazed and sarcastic and Strelok being clueless, the latter ends with the impression that they were talking about his bird. Hayden is cracking up.
Polena soon comes out and tells Strelok she was scared without him, which he finds surprising. She doesn’t want him to leave her alone again. Strelok: “You mean if I left, you’d want to come with me?” Polena: “…No.” (She explains she’s on assignment, although she thinks Sheila hates her.) Strelok says he wouldn’t leave without her, and puts a hand on her shoulder; she turns bright red and says she thinks she hears Sheila calling. She runs over to Sheila and offers to help with her armor.
Strelok goes over to his bird, who is fussy. He is displeased that Aeric invaded his personal space and Strelok was gone. Strelok gives apology scritches, but is still getting the evil eye. Strelok offers meat, and all is well between the two. The prepare to head out.
Hayden asks where we are headed. Since this isn’t the village on the map we were heading towards, that is still our destination. Strelok and Sheila discuss the upcoming desert crossing.
Meanwhile, Zephyr has made a breakthrough in her cypher, and has translated a passage:
“Slug of death and leech of life
Body one with he the blight
Split from health and body sound
Fears the lead not mages bound
Twenty and twelve the beasts hide
Nights and days sust supplied
To et darkness, flesh and hope
On the same page is a diagram of the stages
1. Humanoid torso and head
2. Humanoid torso and head with lines on face where split occurs
3. Face split, parasitic creature emerging
Aeric speaks with Sheila about the mission, expressing his concern about our trip to the village: he feels it a waste of time.
Hayden asks about why WE were sent, when there are all those men on the wall. Well, the men being sent from the wall weren’t coming back. Aeric suggests that those guarding the wall are usually those not fit for polite society, or else those who had displeased a superior. Zephyr adds that their ability to use force to repel attackers has no bearing on their ability to figure out WHY the attacks are increasing. Strelok points out that we have experience in this sort of thing, and have proven ourselves. Hayden still wonders why it has to be us. Zephyr believes he may have self esteem issues. Still, says Hayden, perhaps this is too good
- and strange- to be true. Well, replies Strelok, we’ll detonate that bridge when we come to it. (it’s funny cuz we totes did that).
We see some non-violent wildlife as we travel, which is a good sign. As night falls, we find a clearing almost enclosed by a canopy entwined with vines. It is enclosed on two sides, with a third easily defensible. We decide to camp. Zephyr immediately sits down with the book, encouraged with the progress she has made. Strelok offers to take middle watch with Polena; she seems slightly hesitant, and he promises that he won’t leave. “No, you won’t,” she says. Hayden and Zephyr take first watch, although Zephyr studies the book as much as she can while still being on the lookout (Pallas assists). The watch passes uneventfully. Strelok and Polena begin their watch in silence. Polena looks at her notes, and manages to make a tiny light in her palm. She gets nervous and quickly covers it. Strelok says she is doing well; Polena is still somewhat ashamed of using this sort of magic. She asks that Strelok not tell Sheila. He agrees, but says that using something to help people isn’t bad. Power itself isn’t bad, either; how one uses it is what is important. Polena reveals that she doesn’t want to upset the church because she has no where else to go; “no one else would take me”. Later in the conversation, she expresses her desire to be able to protect herself. “As a cleric, I’m good at helping people, but I’m not very good at helping myself.”
Strelok brings up what she said about not having anywhere else to go, and says his family has a cabin; he awkwardly tells her she can always go there. Polena asks about his family, and he says they’re not around any more. Polena says hers left, too. Her parents told her and her brother that they were taking the harvest to the city, and they never came back. The next year, her brother left to find them, but after awhile Polena went after them all, since she was very low on food. There she met the clerics of Iomadae, who “saved her” and taught her so much. Strelok shares that his brother also left, but we recently discovered that he was alive. Polena says she is sure his brother is looking for him; Strelok is skeptical. He adds that he’s not sure he wants his brother to find him.
By the end of the shift, Polena had almost gotten the light spell down. Strelok tries to explain that he’s not a bad person for not wanting his brother back, and explains the details of the situation, and how his brother prioritized revenge over his family. He still cares about his brother, though.
Sheila has already arisen. She reflects that while Aeric can make good company, he does not respect her meditation at the beginning of the morning. He is rather noisy getting up. This particular morning, he asks her what she is doing “while you’re sitting there, looking all calm and stuff.” He wants to know why she meditates. Sheila notices he seems to be carrying himself differently this morning. More relaxed, fluid, not wearing all his armor. And then he starts being crude, saying that he thought Sheila needed time to “file away” interesting dreams. He saunters off.
Later, Sheila asks what’s up, since he seems different. Aeric asks, have you ever wanted to just… push someone’s buttons? No, Sheila says, not really. Aeric continues to be flippant and suggestive. Then he becomes impatient, asking when we should wake up everyone. Specifically, “want to wake people up with pointies”? Sheila says that he seems to have the excitement for it, so he can do it. Aeric cheerfully pulls out his rapier and starts kicking people. He begins with Hayden. Next, Strelok awakes with his face being pressed into the ground as he is prodded. Aeric takes the threat to his foot as a joke, and says we should all get up and “kill some stuff”.
He goes to the birds, who eye him in a confused manner. As the rest of us get up and get ready, he announces he will get breakfast, and hops onto his bird. “Good riddance”, Hayden says. The rest of the party is ready to depart with no sign of Aeric. Sheila and Hayden discuss the possibility that the forest drove him insane (Sheila in a logical manner, Hayden in a gleeful one). Hayden talks about how this is actually a godsend— “this could be a religious experience for me!” Sheila suggests Strelok start tracking him, with the rest of the party going on ahead. Strelok says Aeric should be able to find us, and we don’t want to split the party further. Since he went in almost the direction we are traveling, we set out, but plan to search for him if there is no sign by noon. Polena seems concerned.
About two and a half hours later, running sounds headed towards us are heard. We stop, preparing for a fight in case it is a foe. Strelok’s bird shifts and makes a trilling sound, which is soon answered at a higher pitch; Aeric’s bird. Aeric rides the bird into sight, carrying the dressed remains of a large scorpion. He gives the tail and intact venom glands to Zephyr. He enlists Strelok to help him get the meat off. Sadly, he didn’t bring back the claws, which have the best of the meat. Strelok gives a quick lesson on the best parts of a scorpion.
Aeric goes to talk with Sheila, and seems to abruptly be back to normal. He says it should be about a day and a half until we reach the village. He and Sheila advise an early morning when we cross the desert. He then asks to go over the maps with Zephyr, who agrees.
After a few more hours of travel, Polena catches up to Sheila. She asks if swords are evil (returning to the conversation about magic, which Strelok had compared to a sword). No; in helping people, they are not evil. The conclusion is that Iomadae would want people to use their gifts to help people. Polena thanks Sheila and runs off.
Around 4pm, Aeric pauses and suggests we stop for the day to rest the birds and mages in preparation of our day in the desert; we can cross here. (The village we are heading to is about a day and a half into the desert; our next destination is a city that is almost at the inner Forest, which would take four days to get to across the desert.) Sheila suggests Strelok climb a tree to try to see what is around them. Having trouble, Hayden bounds up the tree. Strelok drops to the ground, embarrassed. Polena is giggling, but trying to hide it. Sheila is not trying to hide her chuckling.
Hayden’s view is almost unblocked. The desert extends out to the west. The Forest seems like a living green wall. There is a mist of spores around it. There are a few dust devils elsewhere in the desert, and some things he can’t make out. Further, he sees the lines of a city. There are also large, lumbering forms here and there in the desert. Something suddenly seems to rise up above the forest, and disappears into the clouds. It is immense. Looking back towards the village, the large lumbering dots appear to be close to it. Hayden comes down and reports what he saw. Aeric adds that while getting breakfast, he did a bit of scouting, and saw the tracks of some large insect-like creature. It looked almost identical to the trail of a ladybeetle he’d seen in his youth. There seemed to be at least two such trails.
Preparing to camp, Aeric invites Hayden to spar. Sheila expresses interest in watching, and is asked to act as judge. Zephyr wants to watch as well; although she had long since stopped making notes of Hayden’s apparent psychology, aside from events not fitting with past behavior, she has a passing interest in Aeric’s personality change that day. She soon remembers that there are things to study that she finds far more interesting than people, and goes back to her book. Strelok comes over to Zephyr and asks if she noticed Aeric’s personality change. He wonders if it might be “Marcus” showing through. They both believe it is important to keep an eye on him. When asked about possession, Zephyr does not think it likely. Strelok then approaches Sheila to have the same conversation. They don’t think it was just a matter of him becoming comfortable with the group. Sheila reminds Strelok that Aeric has been a bit stressed about the forest and the trek in general.
Meanwhile, Aeric has cleared a large circle and made an outline with twigs and leaves and such. They fight with sticks rather than swords. Hayden confirms with him that there won’t be magic or anything other than the sticks. As they begin, Aeric tenses, and waits. Hayden circles. Zephyr reads. Phallic imagery ensues. A few blows are exchanged. Hayden pretends to stumble at one point, and Aeric falls for the trick, earning himself a direct hit to the solar plexus/zyphoid process region. He calls a timeout, winded. Hayden’s serious, almost solemn demeanor suddenly changes with a higher stance, somewhat bouncing steps, and a cheerful expression. Aeric also smiles, and rises. He quickly rushes, getting in two hits before bring the stick to Hayden’s throat. Aeric says he’s seen this stance change; it was a favorite of his teacher (who “appreciated the cocky ones”). He backs up as Hayden nods, yielding, and gets into a starting position once more. This time, Hayden uses his cloak to entangle, a successful manuever. A hit to the ulnar nerve numbs Aeric’s arm. Aeric is very amused by this, and flops the arm around. “Hey… hey, come here…” He lightly smacks Hayden with the numb arm. “Hehehe.” He thanks Hayden for the duel, complimenting his skill.
Sheila offers to help with Aeric’s arm, but he declines. Talk turns to what we might expect during the next day’s trek. Aeric says, well, it’s what we always dreamed of, isn’t it? He seems to drift into his own world for a moment. “it’s been a long time since we’ve met like that. I hope we’ll both be prepared.” He wanders off, as Hayden has a flash of childhood memory of play-dueling with rancher boys. Hayden asks Strelok if he’d like a go; he declines, although expresses the belief that, if he could hit Hayden, he (Strelok) would win; landing a hit would be uncertain. His magic seems an unfair advantage. Hayden replies by saying that magic can still miss.
Strelok requests Hayden show him how to disarm, or perhaps other techniques. He would like to deliver bounties without killing people. Hayden agrees, provided we don’t all die tomorrow.
[In character but not in-game: Hayden protests not having someone on watch who converses; Zephyr says he never tries, and that she would be an excellent conversationalist… if he talked about something interesting…. Hayden says he feels the same way about her.]